Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig


Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 29 May 2018

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Planning (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Planning (Scotland) Bill: Financial Resolution, Business Motion, Decision Time, Support for Families of Missing People


Topical Question Time

Sustainable Growth Commission (Migration)

1. Ivan McKee (Glasgow Provan) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the recommendations on migration that were made by the sustainable growth commission in the report, “Scotland: the New Case for Optimism”. (S5T-01111)

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution (Derek Mackay)

I should start by noting that I was a member of the sustainable growth commission.

The Scottish Government welcomes the report’s recommendations on migration, chiming as they do with our own report from February of this year, “Scotland’s Population Needs and Migration Policy”. That emphasised the enormous benefits to Scotland’s economy, demography and society that migration offers us, and how a migration system tailored to Scotland’s needs could help realise those benefits.

That shared ambition is captured in the commission’s recommendation that our goal must be for Scotland to become the most talent-friendly country in the world. Although the commission’s report is, first and foremost, a report to my party, I believe that its tone and recommendations on immigration reflect a consensus that includes the majority of our country and, I hope, this chamber.

There are, of course, other matters in the report that the Scottish National Party and the public will be debating over the summer. The Scottish Government will also consider the report’s recommendations on growth carefully to see what more can be done within our existing powers, while making the case for those powers to be extended. I hope that all parties in the chamber will join us in making that case.

Ivan McKee

As the cabinet secretary is aware, six of the report’s 50 recommendations deal directly with addressing Scotland’s long-term problem of population growth compared with other small, independent, successful countries. Those who have read the report will know that I am referring to recommendations 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12. Which recommendations can be adopted now and which require pressure on the United Kingdom Government to allow Scotland to bring in the skills that we need to grow our economy?

Derek Mackay

We have undertaken a number of initiatives so far and there are some live campaigns, such as the campaign around the globe to promote Scotland as a good place to live, work and invest in. In education, we have made commitments relating to European Union nationals, but there are many other areas in which we would need the support and agreement of the UK Government, particularly around migration policies and the issuing of visas, and we are cognisant of the issue of post-study work visas.

Although we may set the rates and bands for income tax policies that are defined by the UK Government, doing more on tax incentives would also require the co-operation of the UK Government.

On culture and tone, there is a mixture between us. I would like to think that the Scottish Government has been positive about the contribution that immigration has made to our country, and the UK Government takes a different view. However, there are a number of proposals in the commission’s report that are worthy of further consideration.

Ivan McKee

The damage to be inflicted on the UK and Scottish economies by the imminent chaotic Brexit cliff edge is well understood. Does the cabinet secretary agree that, in the light of that impending economic disaster, it is even more urgent that we bring full powers over immigration to Scotland?

Derek Mackay

I absolutely agree with that. Even reports such as the Scottish Fiscal Commission’s have identified the proportion of the population that is of working age as an issue for Scotland for productivity and for economic growth in its totality. There are a number of reasons why it really matters to Scotland to get the balance right. In a scenario in which net migration in the UK was reduced to the tens of thousands—an aspiration of the Conservative Government that would be in line with its target—Scotland would lose more than £10 billion a year in gross domestic product by 2040.

That is a longer-term approach. Clearly, the short-term approach of the UK Government to Brexit is also significant. The needs of the population of Scotland are clearly different from those of the rest of the UK, and that is why there is divergence of opinion between the Governments’ positions. We need the levers to be able to make the right decisions in that regard, as well as taking the actions that will encourage more people to come here, so that we can enhance our economic and social situation and sense of cohesion in the position that Scotland finds itself in right now, as well as having options into the future.

Jackson Carlaw (Eastwood) (Con)

I think that most members can agree that last week’s attempt to kick-start a conversation about independence has already run into deep sand.

However, the report is—how can I put this?—not without interest. It is a savage indictment of this Government’s high-tax policy and involves Scots who are already suffering paying even more to attempt to attract those who are currently appalled and resolutely staying away. Would it not be better to set a comprehensive tax regime now, to keep skilled Scots here and to encourage key workers from across the UK, Europe and the world to come and contribute to our culture and to our economy?

Derek Mackay

Jackson Carlaw has clearly not read the 354-page report of the sustainable growth commission—I know that that was a big ask of the Opposition on a bank holiday. I am sure that any reasonable member, once they have read the report, will see that it makes a positive case for being optimistic about Scotland and its future, if we have the economic levers to deliver the kind of change that we seek.

I thought that there was a degree of consensus among parties in this Parliament on immigration, of all issues. That has historically been the case, because collectively we recognise that we need to grow our population and ensure that there is an appropriate balance of working-age people. That can be done only through positive immigration, and we do not have the particular lever in that regard, which is a challenge for Scotland at the same time as the right-wing Brexit madness of the hardliners in the Conservative Party is setting the immigration policies of this country. [Interruption.] I hear Labour members chuntering on my right. Maybe they, too, should read the report.

On tax, we could do more on incentives if we were able to set definitions and have a more harmonious position on tax incentives to encourage more people to come here, including higher-value individuals, if I may use that term.

Even the Scottish Fiscal Commission recognised, in its analysis, that my proposed tax plans would have no significant negative effect on the Scottish economy. If I had followed Conservative plans on the budget, it would have meant ripping half a billion pounds out of the public services of Scotland. That was something that this Government was not willing to do.

Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

Growing Scotland’s population in the coming years is a challenge. To get Scotland’s deficit below 3 per cent, the economics of the sustainable growth commission would see Scotland enter into a decade of austerity max. Will the cabinet secretary say how an independent Scotland would be more attractive to migrants in the face of harsher cuts to our public services?

Derek Mackay

I simply say to Claire Baker that austerity is the price of the union, not Scottish independence. [Interruption.] I hear members of the Labour Party shouting. I am left suspicious as to whether they read the sustainable growth commission’s report, because the commission set out pathways to sustainable economic growth, greater participation, better productivity and more alignment of the policies that we could have, as an independent country, to grow our population and thereby grow our economy.

Crucially, is Claire Baker not aware that the proposals in the report show above-inflation increases in public spending? Is the Labour Party aware of that? I say again: austerity is the price of being part of the union. With the levers of independence, we could do so much better.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

Everyone who has a shred of human decency wants to see an end to the hostile environment on immigration that has been deliberately cultivated by the UK Government.

However, is there not a contradiction in the report between the general emphasis on wanting Scotland to be an open and welcoming country and the proposal merely to reduce to £75,000, rather than abolish, the investment threshold for the issuing of visas? Surely we have a choice: we can be that open, welcoming country, or we can sell visas to the wealthy.

Derek Mackay

Patrick Harvie makes a fair point about the needs of our society and our economy. It is not just about needing entrepreneurs and experts, although we absolutely need them; it is about wanting to be as welcoming a country as possible. That includes welcoming students and welcoming doctors, who are being denied access by the UK Government. It includes welcoming a host of people into our society and our country.

We should reflect on the positive contribution that immigration has made to our country. The current figure is that 429,000 residents of Scotland were born outside the UK and already make a fantastic contribution—some £1.3 billion net—to our economy. We want to see more positive migration that grows our economy, and does so in a fairer way.

Our needs are different in agriculture, education and a whole host of areas that would benefit from our being able to make immigration decisions that are in Scotland’s interests but also—and crucially—show humanity, to ensure that we play our part on the international stage as well as look after our own social and economic needs.

Interventional Radiologists

2. Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to ensure that there are sufficient and substantive interventional radiologists in every major hospital in Scotland. (S5T-01113)

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport (Shona Robison)

Under this Government, the number of clinical radiology consultants who work in NHS Scotland has increased by more than 43 per cent. We are expanding the Scottish radiology training programme by 50 places over five years from this year, which builds on an on-going programme of expansion of 36 places from a starting baseline of 104 places in 2014. We have also launched a global radiology recruitment campaign.

Alongside the £4 million radiology transformation programme that is already under way, such actions underline our commitment to ensuring that NHS Scotland retains world-class radiology services.

Edward Mountain

I thank the cabinet secretary for her answer and for the completely surprising letter that I received at 12 o’clock today, which laid that out. I do not normally get letters from the cabinet secretary: perhaps I should ask more topical questions.

Bearing in mind what the cabinet secretary has said, let us look at the facts. We are sitting on more unread radiology films, a bill of nearly £4 million per year for outsourcing, 14 per cent of radiology posts remaining unfilled, a failed overseas recruitment campaign and those who need interventional radiology for cancer treatment and palliative care not getting treatment on time. The SNP Government has been running the NHS for 11 years. Will the cabinet secretary accept her Government’s failures for those performance figures?

Shona Robison

Any time Edward Mountain cares to write to me, he will get a reply. I hope that he found the contents of my letter helpful in addressing the issue that he has raised today at topical question time.

Edward Mountain talked about X-ray images being sent abroad, which was raised at First Minister’s question time last week, when the First Minister rightly said that the key priority is to provide high-quality and safe services to patients. She also said that boards can, in order to ensure that scans are seen quickly by qualified professionals, utilise the services of radiologists outwith Scotland. Of course, that is done routinely in England and Wales and elsewhere. To help to grow local capacity, we are investing £4 million in the transformation programme to improve capacity across Scotland.

Edward Mountain is wrong to say that the recruitment campaign is “a failed ... campaign”, because it is on-going. Offers have already been made to some candidates, and others are receiving on-going additional support to achieve their fellowship of the Royal College of Radiologists or certificate of eligibility for specialist registration qualifications, in order that they can practise as consultants in Scotland, bearing in mind that qualifications from the countries from which candidates originate need to be aligned with qualifications here. The short-listing stage is on-going; we are very confident that many candidates from that stage will be offered substantive appointments. I hope that that reassures the member that the recruitment campaign is on-going. I will be happy to keep him updated as we take that forward.

Edward Mountain

If I may, I will concentrate on the recruitment campaign. Dr Grant Baxter, who chairs the standing Scottish committee of the Royal College of Radiologists, says that the campaign “has failed”. Let us be clear and get the figures right: 43 people applied for the jobs. They were whittled down to three, none of whom is being employed in NHS Highland. Let us look at the situation there. From August, NHS Highland will have no interventional radiologists, which means that elective, general and emergency surgery will be severely affected. Will the cabinet secretary now guarantee that an interventional radiologist will be in place at Raigmore hospital before the current one leaves? If not, will surgery have to be moved outwith the Highlands? How will she explain that to Highlanders, and especially those who have a life-threatening need for interventional radiology?

Shona Robison

I go back to the recruitment campaign. Edward Mountain mentioned the three candidates to whom offers have been made. Those offers were unconditional offers of appointment. However, if he had listened to my original answer, he would know that there is a separate process under way to make sure that the qualifications of the longer list of people who have expressed an interest in coming to Scotland under the recruitment campaign are aligned with the required qualifications here. Those people are getting support with that alignment process, and we are confident that a number of them will be appointed, including in the north of Scotland.

With regard to Edward Mountain’s question about interventional radiology, I do not know whether he is aware that eight to 10 additional training places for interventional radiology have been provided over the past six years. We are working very closely with NHS Education for Scotland to make sure that those additional training places deliver for the whole of Scotland, including the north of Scotland. He will be aware of the increase in the number of consultants whose specialty is clinical radiology who are working in NHS Scotland, including in NHS Highland. However, there is more work to be done, which is why the transformation programme is so important.

Perhaps Edward Mountain could, instead of criticising it, get behind the global recruitment campaign to attract radiologists to Scotland, which is proving to be successful in bringing people here.

Edward Mountain

I am not criticising the global recruitment campaign; it is the senior radiologist in Scotland who says that it is failing. I just want to get the facts and figures.

The cabinet secretary has not answered the substantive question. From August, there will be no interventional radiologists in the Highlands. The health service can train as many as it likes, but they will not be in post in two months’ time. People in the Highlands are worried that they will not get their surgery and that, in emergency situations, they will not have access to the radiologists that they need. What assurances can the cabinet secretary give them?

Shona Robison

Patients will get the services, the treatment and the interventions that they require. A lot of work is being done—not only to recruit to the substantive posts, but to make sure that we get radiology services for the north of Scotland to a sustainable position in which patients in the NHS Highland area continue to get those services.

Edward Mountain should, instead of criticising from the sidelines, support and get behind practical initiatives such as the global recruitment campaign, through which we are working hard to bring radiologists to Scotland.

Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

What a complacent and pathetic set of answers we have had from the cabinet secretary on the day when official statistics show that, because of her Government’s failures, in the first three months of this year almost 18,000 people did not get their diagnostics in time. The same set of statistics shows that almost 17,000 patients have been failed in the treatment time guarantee. That means that the cabinet secretary has broken her own law 17,000 times in three months.

In the press release that she has issued in response, the cabinet secretary blames one week of bad weather, when we had the beast from the east, but one week of bad weather does not explain statistics on three months of failure and, in the cabinet secretary’s case, four years of failure. When will she finally get her head out of the sand, apologise to patients and deliver real and meaningful change?

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

I ask Anas Sarwar to be careful in his use of language. It is very important to be respectful. I recognise the passion that the member wishes to get across, but I ask him to be respectful of other members, please.

Shona Robison

I remind Anas Sarwar of what the rest of the press release says. It says that the £50 million that we announced last year has been delivering a huge reduction in out-patient waits: more than 23,000 fewer patients are now waiting for an out-patient appointment.

Yesterday, an additional £50 million was announced. That £50 million will be focused on diagnostics and the treatment time guarantee. [Interruption.] If Anas Sarwar would listen to the answer, he might learn something. The investment in diagnostics is hugely important. That is why the Golden Jubilee national hospital has just made a huge investment in additional magnetic resonance imaging scanners, which will enable it to deliver 10,000 additional scans over the course of this year.

Diagnostics is a priority. On average, waits for cancer diagnostics are within two weeks, because we recognise that cancer patients should get priority when it comes to diagnostics. More investment in diagnostics—out-patient and in-patient—will begin to make a huge improvement over the next few weeks and months.